In the biblical narrative, David is a young shepherd who gains fame first as a musician and later by killing the enemy champion Goliath. He becomes a favorite of King Saul and a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan. Worried that David is trying to take his throne, Saul turns on David. After Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed as King. David conquers Jerusalem, taking the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and establishing the kingdom founded by Saul. As king, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, leading him to arrange the death of her husband Uriah the Hittite. Because of this sin, God denies David the opportunity to build the temple, and his son Absalom tries to overthrow him. David flees Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion, but after Absalom’s death, he returns to the city to rule Israel. Before his peaceful death, he chooses his son Solomon as his successor. He is honored in prophetic literature as an ideal king and an ancestor of a future Messiah, and many psalms are ascribed to him.
Historians of the Ancient Near East agree that David probably existed around 1000 BCE, but that there is little that can be said about him as a historical figure. There is no direct evidence outside of the Bible concerning David, but the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase ביתדוד, bytdwd, consisting of the Hebrew words “house” and “David”, which most scholars translate as “House (Dynasty) of David”. Ancient Near East historians generally doubt that the united monarchy as described in the Bible existed.
David is richly represented in post-biblical Jewish written and oral tradition, and is discussed in the New Testament. Early Christians interpreted the life of Jesus in light of the references to the Messiah and to David; Jesus is described as being descended from David. David is discussed in the Quran and figures in Islamic oral and written tradition as well. The biblical character of David has inspired many interpretations in art and literature over centuries.
Main Article: The Story of David
The first book of Samuel portrays David as the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. His mother is not named in any book of the Bible, but the Talmud identifies her as Nitzevet daughter of Adael. When the story was retold in 1 Chronicles (4th century BCE) he was made the youngest of seven sons and given two sisters, Zeruiah and Abigail. The Book of Ruth (possibly also 4th century BCE) traces his ancestry back to Ruth the Moabite.
David is described as cementing his relations with various political and national groups through marriage. King Saul initially offered David his oldest daughter Merab. David did not refuse the offer, but humbled himself in front of Saul to be considered among the King’s family. Saul reneged and instead gave Merab in marriage to Adriel the Meholathite. Having been told that his younger daughter Michal was in love with David, Saul gave her in marriage to David upon David’s payment in Philistine foreskins. Saul became jealous of David and tried to have him killed. David escaped. Then Saul sent Michal to Galim to marry Palti, son of Laish. David then took wives in Hebron, according to 2 Samuel 3; they were Ahinoam the Yizre’elite, Abigail – the wife of Nabal the Carmelite, Maacah – the daughter of Talmay, king of Geshur, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah. Later, David wanted Michal back and Saul’s son Ish-boshet delivered her to David, causing her husband (Palti) great grief.
The Book of Chronicles lists his sons with his various wives and concubines. In Hebron, David had six sons: Amnon, by Ahinoam; Daniel, by Abigail; Absalom, by Maachah; Adonijah, by Haggith; Shephatiah, by Abital; and Ithream, by Eglah. By Bathsheba, his sons were Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. David’s sons born in Jerusalem of his other wives included Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama and Eliada. Jerimoth, who is not mentioned in any of the genealogies, is mentioned as another of his sons in 2 Chronicles 11:18. His daughter Tamar, by Maachah, is raped by her half-brother Amnon.
God is angered when Saul, Israel’s king, unlawfully offers a sacrifice and later disobeys a divine command both to kill all of the Amalekites and to destroy their confiscated property. Consequently, God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint a shepherd, David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem, to be king instead.
After God sends an evil spirit to torment Saul, his courtiers recommend that he send for David, a man skilled in playing the lyre, wise in speech, and brave in battle. David thus enters Saul’s service as one of the royal armour-bearers and plays the lyre to soothe the king.
War comes between Israel and the Philistines, and the giant Goliath challenges the Israelites to send out a champion to face him in single combat. David, sent by his father to bring provisions to his brothers serving in Saul’s army, declares that he can defeat Goliath. Refusing the king’s offer of the royal armour, he kills Goliath with his sling. Saul inquires the name of the young hero’s father.
Saul sets David over his army. All Israel loves David, but his popularity causes Saul to fear him (“What else can he wish but the kingdom?”). Saul plots his death, but Saul’s son Jonathan, one of those who loves David, warns him of his father’s schemes and David flees. He goes first to Nob, where he is fed by the priest Ahimelech and given Goliath’s sword, and then to Gath, the Philistine city of Goliath, intending to seek refuge with King Achish there. Achish’s servants or officials question his loyalty, and David sees that he is in danger there.He goes next to the cave of Adullam, where his family join him. From there he goes to seek refuge with the king of Moab, but the prophet Gad advises him to leave and he goes to the Forest of Hereth, and then to Keilah, where he is involved in a further battle with the Philistines. Saul plans to besiege Keilah so that he can capture David, so David leaves the city in order to protect its inhabitants. From there he takes refuge in the mountainous Wilderness of Ziph.
Jonathan meets with David again and confirms his loyalty to David as the future king. After the people of Ziph notify Saul that David is taking refuge in their territory, Saul seeks confirmation and plans to capture David in the Wilderness of Maon, but his attention is diverted by a renewed Philistine invasion and David is able to secure some respite at Ein Gedi. Returning from battle with the Philistines, Saul heads to Ein Gedi in pursuit of David and enters the cave where, as it happens, David and his supporters are hiding, “to attend to his needs”. David realises he has an opportunity to kill Saul, but this is not his intention: he secretly cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, and when Saul has left the cave he comes out to pay homage to Saul as the king and to demonstrate, using the piece of robe, that he holds no malice towards Saul. The two are thus reconciled and Saul recognises David as his successor.
A similar passage occurs in 1 Samuel 26, when David is able to infiltrate Saul’s camp on the hill of Hachilah and remove his spear and a jug of water from his side while he and his guards lie asleep. In this account, David is advised by Abishai that this is his opportunity to kill Saul, but David declines, saying he will not “stretch out [his] hand against the Lord’s anointed”. Saul confesses that he has been wrong to pursue David and blesses him.
A different tradition is narrated in 1 Samuel 27:1–4, namely that Saul ceased to pursue David because David took refuge a second time with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. Achish permits David to reside in Ziklag, close to the border between Gath and Judea, from where he leads raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites, but leads Achish to believe he is attacking the Israelites in Judah, the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites. Achish believes that David had become a loyal vassal, but he never wins the trust of the princes or lords of Gath, and at their request Achish instructs David to remain behind to guard the camp when the Philistines march against Saul. David returns to Ziklag. Jonathan and Saul are killed in battle, and David is anointed king over Judah. In the north, Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth is anointed king of Israel, and war ensues until Ish-Bosheth is murdered.
With the death of Saul’s son, the elders of Israel come to Hebron and David is anointed king over all of Israel. He conquers Jerusalem, previously a Jebusite stronghold, and makes it his capital. He brings the Ark of the Covenant to the city, intending to build a temple for God, but the prophet Nathan forbids it, prophesying that the temple would be built by one of David’s sons. Nathan also prophesies that God has made a covenant with the house of David stating, “your throne shall be established forever”. David wins additional victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Amalekites, Ammonites and king Hadadezer of Aram-Zobah, after which they become tributaries.
During a siege of the Ammonite capital of Rabbah, David remains in Jerusalem. He spies a woman, Bathsheba, bathing and summons her; she becomes pregnant. The text in the Bible does not explicitly state whether Bathsheba consented to sex. David calls her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battle to rest, hoping that he will go home to his wife and the child will be presumed to be his. Uriah does not visit his wife, however, so David conspires to have him killed in the heat of battle. David then marries the widowed Bathsheba. In response, Nathan prophesies the punishment that will fall upon him, stating “the sword shall never depart from your house.” When David acknowledges that he has sinned, Nathan advises him that his sin is forgiven and he will not die, but the child will. In fulfillment of Nathan’s words, David’s son Absalom, fueled by vengeance and lust for power, rebels. Absalom’s forces are routed at the battle of the Wood of Ephraim, and he is caught by his long hair in the branches of a tree where, contrary to David’s order, he is killed by Joab, the commander of David’s army. David laments the death of his favourite son: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” until Joab persuades him to recover from “the extravagance of his grief” and to fulfil his duty to his people. David returns to Gilgal and is escorted across the River Jordan and back to Jerusalem by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
When David is old and bedridden, Adonijah, his eldest surviving son and natural heir, declares himself king. Bathsheba and Nathan go to David and obtain his agreement to crown Bathsheba’s son Solomon as king, according to David’s earlier promise, and the revolt of Adonijah is put down. David dies at the age of 70 after reigning for 40 years, and on his deathbed counsels Solomon to walk in the ways of God and to take revenge on his enemies.
The Book of Samuel calls David a skillful harp (lyre) player and “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” Yet, while almost half of the Psalms are headed “A Psalm of David” (also translated as “to David” or “for David”) and tradition identifies several with specific events in David’s life (e.g., Psalms 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63 and 142), the headings are late additions and no psalm can be attributed to David with certainty.
Psalm 34 is attributed to David on the occasion of his escape from Abimelech (or King Achish) by pretending to be insane. According to the parallel narrative in 1 Samuel 21, instead of killing the man who had exacted so many casualties from him, Abimelech allows David to depart, exclaiming, “Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”
History and archeology
The Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase Hebrew: ביתדוד, bytdwd, which most scholars translate as “House of David”. Other scholars, such as Anson Rainey have challenged this reading, but it is likely that this is a reference to a dynasty of the Kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David. The Mesha Stele from Moab, dating from approximately the same period, may also contain the name David in two places, although this is less certain than the mention in the Tel Dan inscription.
Besides the two steles, bible scholar and egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen suggests that David’s name also appears in a relief of Pharaoh Shoshenq (usually identified with Shishak in the Bible, 1 Kings 14:25-27). The relief claims that Shoshenq raided places in Palestine in 925 BCE, and Kitchen interprets one place as “Heights of David”, which was in Southern Judah and the Negev where the Bible says David took refuge from Saul. The relief is damaged and interpretation is uncertain.
Apart from these, all that is known of David comes from the biblical literature. The Books of Samuel were substantially composed during the time of King Josiah at the end of the 7th century BCE, extended during the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), and substantially complete by about 550 BCE, although further editing was done even after then—the silver quarter-shekel which Saul’s servant offers to Samuel in 1 Samuel 9 “almost certainly fixes the date of the story in the Persian or Hellenistic period”. The authors and editors of Samuel drew on many earlier sources, including, for their history of David, the “history of David’s rise” (1 Samuel 16:14–2 Samuel 5:10), and the “succession narrative” (2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2). The Book of Chronicles, which tells the story from a different point of view, was probably composed in the period 350–300 BCE, and uses Samuel as its source.
The authors and editors of Samuel and Chronicles did not aim to record history, but to promote David’s reign as inevitable and desirable, and for this reason there is little about David that is concrete and undisputed. The archaeological evidence indicates that in the 10th century BCE, the time of David, Judah was sparsely inhabited and Jerusalem was no more than a small village; over the following century it slowly evolved from a highland chiefdom to a kingdom, but always overshadowed by the older and more powerful kingdom of Israel to the north. The biblical evidence likewise indicates that David’s Judah was something less than a full-fledged monarchy: it often calls him negid, for example, meaning “prince” or “chief”, rather than melek, meaning “king”; the biblical David sets up none of the complex bureaucracy that a kingdom needs (even his army is made up of volunteers), and his followers are largely related to him and from his small home-area around Hebron.
Beyond this, the full range of possible interpretations is available. The late John Bright, in his History of Israel (1981), takes Samuel at face value. Donald B. Redford, however, sees all reconstructions from biblical sources for the United Monarchy period as examples of “academic wishful thinking”. Thomas L. Thompson rejects the historicity of the biblical narrative: “The history of Palestine and of its peoples is very different from the Bible’s narratives, whatever political claims to the contrary may be. An independent history of Judea during the Iron I and Iron II periods has little room for historicizing readings of the stories of I-II Samuel and I Kings.” Amihai Mazar however, concludes that based on recent archeological findings, like those in City of David, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel Dan, Tel Rehov, Khirbet en-Nahas and others “the deconstruction of United Monarchy and the devaluation of Judah as a state in 9th century is unacceptable interpretation of available historic data”. According to Mazar, based on archeological evidences, the United Monarchy can be described as a “state in development”.
Some studies of David have been written: Baruch Halpern has pictured David as a lifelong vassal of Achish, the Philistine king of Gath; Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman have identified as the oldest and most reliable section of Samuel those chapters which describe David as the charismatic leader of a band of outlaws who captures Jerusalem and makes it his capital. Steven McKenzie, Associate Professor of the Hebrew Bible at Rhodes College and author of King David: A Biography, argues that David came from a wealthy family, was “ambitious and ruthless” and a tyrant who murdered his opponents, including his own sons.
Critical Bible scholarship holds that the biblical account of David’s rise to power is a political apology—an answer to contemporary charges against him, of his involvement in murders and regicide.
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman reject the idea that David ruled over a united monarchy, suggesting instead that he ruled only as a chieftain over the southern kingdom of Judah, much smaller than the northern kingdom of Israel at that time. They posit that Israel and Judah were still polytheistic in the time of David and Solomon, and that much later seventh-century redactors sought to portray a past golden age of a united, monotheistic monarchy in order to serve contemporary needs. They note a lack of archeological evidence for David’s military campaigns and a relative underdevelopment of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, compared to a more developed and urbanized Samaria, capital of Israel.
Jacob L. Wright, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University, has written that the most popular legends about David, including his killing of Goliath, his affair with Bathsheba, and his ruling of a United Kingdom of Israel rather than just Judah, are the creation of those who lived generations after him, in particular those living in the late Persian or Hellenistic periods.
History of interpretation in the Abrahamic religions
David is an important figure in Rabbinic Judaism, with many legends around him. According to one tradition, David was raised as the son of his father Jesse and spent his early years herding his father’s sheep in the wilderness while his brothers were in school.
David’s adultery with Bathsheba is interpreted as only an opportunity to demonstrate the power of repentance, and the Talmud states that it was not adultery at all, quoting a Jewish practice of divorce on the eve of battle. Furthermore, according to Talmudic sources, the death of Uriah was not to be considered murder, on the basis that Uriah had committed a capital offense by refusing to obey a direct command from the King. However, in tractate Sanhedrin, David expressed remorse over his transgressions and sought forgiveness. God ultimately forgave David and Bathsheba but would not remove their sins from Scripture.
According to midrashim, Adam gave up 70 years of his life for the life of David. Also, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, David was born and died on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks). His piety was said to be so great that his prayers could bring down things from Heaven.
The concept of the Messiah is important in Christianity. Originally an earthly king ruling by divine appointment (“the anointed one”, as the title Messiah had it), the “son of David” became in the last two pre-Christian centuries the apocalyptic and heavenly one who would deliver Israel and usher in a new kingdom. This was the background to the concept of Messiahship in early Christianity, which interpreted the career of Jesus “by means of the titles and functions assigned to David in the mysticism of the Zion cult, in which he served as priest-king and in which he was the mediator between God and man”. The early Church believed that “the life of David [foreshadowed] the life of Christ; Bethlehem is the birthplace of both; the shepherd life of David points out Christ, the Good Shepherd; the five stones chosen to slay Goliath are typical of the five wounds; the betrayal by his trusted counsellor, Achitophel, and the passage over the Cedron remind us of Christ’s Sacred Passion. Many of the Davidic Psalms, as we learn from the New Testament, are clearly typical of the future Messiah.” In the Middle Ages, “Charlemagne thought of himself, and was viewed by his court scholars, as a ‘new David’. [This was] not in itself a new idea, but [one whose] content and significance were greatly enlarged by him”. The linking of David to earthly kingship was reflected in European cathedral windows of the Late Middle Ages, through the device of the Tree of Jesse, its branches demonstrating how divine kingship descended from Jesse, through his son David, to Jesus.
Western Rite churches (Lutheran, Roman Catholic) celebrate his feast day on 29 December, and Eastern-rite on 19 December. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate the feast day of the “Holy Righteous Prophet and King David” on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (two Sundays before the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord), when he is commemorated together with other ancestors of Jesus. He is also commemorated on the Sunday after the Nativity, together with Joseph and James, the Brother of the Lord.
In the European Christian culture of the Middle Ages, David was made a member of the Nine Worthies, a group of heroes encapsulating all the ideal qualities of chivalry. His life was thus proposed as a valuable subject for study by those aspiring to chivalric status. This aspect of David in the Nine Worthies was popularised firstly through literature, and was thereafter adopted as a frequent subject for painters and sculptors.
David was considered as a model ruler and a symbol of divinely-ordained monarchy throughout medieval Western Europe and Eastern Christendom. David was perceived as the biblical predecessor to Christian Roman and Byzantine emperors and the name “New David” was used as an honorific reference to these rulers. The Georgian Bagratids and the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia claimed direct biological descent from him. Likewise, kings of the Frankish Carolingian dynasty frequently connected themselves to David; Charlemagne himself occasionally used the name of David as his pseudonym.
Main article: David in Islam
David is an important figure in Islam as one of the major prophets sent by God to guide the Israelites. David is mentioned several times in the Quran with the Arabic name داود, Dāwūd, often with his son Solomon. In the Qur’an: David killed Goliath (2:251), a giant soldier in the Philistine army. When David killed Goliath, God granted him kingship and wisdom and enforced it (38:20). David was made God’s “vicegerent on earth” (38:26) and God further gave David sound judgment (21:78; 37:21–24, 26) as well as the Psalms, regarded as books of divine wisdom (4:163; 17:55). The birds and mountains united with David in uttering praise to God (21:79; 34:10; 38:18), while God made iron soft for David (34:10), God also instructed David in the art of fashioning chain-mail out of iron (21:80); an indication of the first use of wrought iron, this knowledge gave David a major advantage over his bronze and cast iron-armed opponents, not to mention the cultural and economic impact. Together with Solomon, David gave judgment in a case of damage to the fields (21:78) and David judged the matter between two disputants in his prayer chamber (38:21–23). Since there is no mention in the Qur’an of the wrong David did to Uriah nor any reference to Bathsheba, Muslims reject this narrative.
Muslim tradition and the hadith stress David’s zeal in daily prayer as well as in fasting. Qur’an commentators, historians, and compilers of the numerous Stories of the Prophets elaborate upon David’s concise Qur’anic narratives and specifically mention David’s gift in singing his Psalms as well as his musical and vocal talents. His voice is described as having had a captivating power, weaving its influence not only over man but over all beasts and nature, who would unite with him to praise God.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia